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Martelange Junction, Eastern Belgium 24th Dec 1944 2.

24pm

An armoured column is moving the 20km north from Martelange to


Bastogne in eastern Belgium. It consists of a Recon. Troop (3 x M3
Stuarts) and 'B' Troop 3 Sqn (3 x M4 Shermans) both 8th Armored
Div. as well as 1st & 2nd Platoons from Baker Company 2nd Btn, 109th
Inf Regt, 20th Inf. Div. The armoured column (one of several heading
north) has, as its objective, the relief of the 101st Airborne Div.
which is presently defending Bastogne against a German advance
which has broken through the American lines on a forty mile front
since the start of the attack on 16th December. Both Divisions are
part of General G. Patton's 3rd Army which is counter-attacking
north into the German advance.

Well aware of the probable movement of 3rd Army units heading


north, the attacking Germans have various blocking units on the
roads towards Neufchateau, Bastogne and Ettlebruck.
North-west of the small town of Martelange a German force (Kampfgruppe Lutz)
from Feldersatz-Bataillon 26 takes up ambush positions in and around the road
junction. Being a Feldersatz-Bataillon these units are generally a pretty mixed bag. In
this case it consists of Hstf. Lutz (Waffen SS), 4 squads of panzergrenadiers, a squad
of engineers an HMG section and a PAK anti-tank gun. In addition, two Pzkw VI
have been detached from Panzerjger-Abteilung 26 and are on its way to the junction.
Pre- action. - Hstf. Lutz gets a radio message that his engineer squad, their mines and
their Horsch truck have ended up in a ditch 7 kilometres away.
The action.

While the US column moves forward. Hstf. Lutz gets another radio message that one
of the Pzkw VIs is just a few hundred metres away and will be approaching down the
road from Bastogne.
The armoured column had reached the trees and turned the bend on to the straight
towards the junction when the first shot from the hidden PAK-40 hit Cpl Hill's M3
Stuart causing minor damage just as a Panzerschreck fired by 2nd Squad hit Sgt
Konarski's M3 but causing no apparent damage.
The Stuarts immediately started to deploy off road as the column ground to a halt but
Cpl Hill's M3 was hit again and the gun and upper turret were destroyed and the crew
baled out.
Lt. Willard's and Sgt Suarez' Shermans open a suppressing fire on the woods where
2nd Squad were hidden and the squad duly goes to ground. Sgt Brewster's Sherman
swings north and covers the area beside where the PAK-40 reportedly rests but
keeping the junction wall between them.
At this point the infantry commander, Lt Walker has had a hurried conference with his
other subordinate, 2nd Lt Burton. His plan is for Lt Burton's platoon to swing north
and approach and clear the woods to the NE of the junction while his own platoon
will move south of the road and occupy the farmhouse. The tanks are to move to
either side of the road and then halt in dead ground from the anti-tank gun while
basically acting as supporting artillery by firing on the farmhouse and the woods
while the two platoons assault their objectives.
This plan has hardly been put into action when the appearance of the Pzkw. VI beside
the junction throws the whole concept into disarray.
The Tiger immediately fired on Sgt Konarski's Stuart damaging it slightly and
stunning the crew. Cpl. Dewar's Stuart speeded up seeking to put the woods in
between itself and the Tiger. As this happened Sgt Brewster's Sherman fired at the
Tiger but without effect. A few seconds later a return shot hit his Sherman damaging
the gun turret and immobilising the tank. Sgt Brewster and his crew immediately
baled out and ran for the nearest cover.
Lt. Willard's Sherman, still on the road, advanced to engage the Tiger while Sgt
Suarez' tank moved towards the south of the road encountering a barbed wire
entanglement on the edge of the woods and with a view to engaging the Tiger
between two fires prepared to swing north around the wood. In the meantime, the two
infantry platoons moved cautiously up towards the action, hugging the hedge cover.
Realising that engaging the Tiger on his own was little better than suicide Sgt. Suarez
halted and fired a couple of rounds at the farmhouse (unknown to him suppressing
German 3rd squad and the MG-42 crew dug in there) hoping to draw the Tiger
forward to a point where either he or Lt Willard could get a flank shot at it.
His attempt to flank the Tiger was slowed when the Panzerscheck armed German 2nd
Squad burst from the trees ahead of him and simultaneously the ominously familiar
loud click came from Lt. Willard's radio accompanied by a gout of flame from over
the trees.
Having disposed of Lt Willard's Sherman, the Tiger moved out and took position
across the road (and incidentally blocking the fire of Obergefrieter Eberhardt's PAK-
40) but by this stage it was largely academic. Sgt Konarski's crew of the damaged and
immoblised Stuart baled out and fled for cover.
Sgt Suarez halted and remained in dead ground while both infantry platoons took
cover and a general retreat towards Martelange ensued with the remaining Sherman
firing off smoke to cover their withdrawal. Cpl Dewar's M3 Stuart rejoined after a
circuitous route around the battlefield.
Kampfgruppe Lutz, having successfully held the junction with minimal casualties
(slight wounds from tree splinters in the woods and flying brickwork in the
farmhouse) did not pursue and waited to lay their mines when they arrived and the
second Tiger to turn up. From the German point of view it was a completely
victorious ambush with only one of 2nd Platoon's squads actually having to engage
the enemy.
From the US point of view it was a major shock with the crucial point being the
arrival of the Tiger and the consequent loss of four tanks out of six. The prevalent US
3rd Army 'mind-set' (previously used only to pursuit of retreating German forces) led
to a certain over-confidence and the lack of lorry towed anti-tank guns and a heavy
weapons element with 50 cal. HMGs and mortars in the column led to a certain
fragility when things went badly.